There aren’t many things more pretentious than naming your band after a Mac keyboard shortcut but that is exactly what Alt-J (∆) have done. Their debut album An Awesome Wave was released on May 28th and features ‘Matilda’, ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Tesselate’ which have been floating around on the internet for a while, alongside some brand new music. I’ve been a fan of these guys for a while, but after the hype of a new band, it’s often difficult and disappointing to finally listen to an album that turns out to be substandard and bland, but this is not the case with Alt-J.
The album displays an intricacy in the instrumentation with a heavy focus on the rhythmicity which drives the tracks. Quirky vocals warble “Please don’t go, please don’t go, I love you so” over the top of a heavy timbre of strings, percussion and guitars on ‘Tesselate’ whilst ‘Fitzpleasure’ displays the band’s “folk-step” genre through dirty bass and big drops combined with gentle lyrics and “tra-la-las”. ‘Something Good’ is one of the quieter and calmer songs on the album with a slower pace and a piano which builds before each chorus. Closing the album is ‘Taro’ which is also one of the most pleasant tracks on the album. Heartfelt vocals sound alongside strings and soft percussion before a psychadelic Bhangra sound kicks in. This track perfectly displays Alt-J’s attention to detail with their elaborate sound as the track diminishes into soothing strings to complete the album.
However, the pretentious/alternative/hipster vibe doesn’t just stop with the name of the band; no less than three interludes break down the album into manageable chunks. I can’t help but find these interludes a little useless. As many of the tracks on the album have already been heard through other releases and demos, I would have preferred a greater number of full length tracks rather than interludes, despite the fact that they make the album flow nicely.
This is a strong debut album with delicate lyrics and an experimental approach to instrumentation which has surprised many critics. The niche voice of lead singer Joe Newman can get a bit monotonous along with the amplified percussion as the album progresses but this is one of very few criticisms. An exceptional debut.